The new HOPE Lite unveiled last week by Gov. Nathan Deal is less filling, but longer lasting than Classic HOPE.
I’m not sure too many Georgia students or their parents are going to like the taste.
Deal has done the political heavy lifting of downgrading HOPE, the beloved college scholarship program created by former Gov. Zell Miller and praised for its simplicity.
An inspiration for programs in other states, HOPE was one of the few college scholarships that could be distilled into one sentence: Earn a B average in high school, keep it in college and Georgia will pay your college costs.
Suddenly, bright Georgia students who once would have been Tar Heels were wearing red and rooting for the Bulldogs.
Rather than only stopping in Valdosta for lunch en route to Orlando, metro Atlanta families are now stopping to see Valdosta State University.
The simplicity and generosity of the HOPE scholarship made it such a success that the funding source, the Georgia Lottery, could not keep pace. HOPE serves 200,000 college students, while 82,000 children are in Georgia pre-k.
With the lottery unable to fully underwrite HOPE or the state’s universal pre-k program, tough decisions had to be made. In the end, Deal chose to spread the pain around to all programs. Unfortunately, his changes eliminate the simplicity of HOPE.
Now, families have to read a lot of fine print to understand how a student qualifies for HOPE and which version, HOPE Lite or Classic HOPE.
Also erased is the $300 book allotment and money for mandatory fees, which provided $62 to $435 a semester depending on the college.
The difference could amount to nearly $7,500 over the four years, depending on which college a student attended.
Under Deal’s plan, most Georgia students starting college in the fall and those already enrolled will experience a reduced HOPE scholarship, 90 percent of tuition and zero for books and fees.
And they will get only one chance to regain it if they fall below the required 3.0 grade point average.
For a sliver of students, Deal proposes to maintain full tuition funding, but recipients have several new hurdles to cross. He dubs these super achievers Zell Miller Scholars.
In high school, they must have had a 3.7 GPA and at least 1200 on the 1600-scale SAT.
Once in college, they have to maintain a 3.5 GPA, which is higher than most honors programs impose for students to maintain their standing and beyond what most private colleges require for their scholarship recipient to hold on to their merit aid.
In fact, the average GPA of the Georgia Tech Honors Program is 3.34 for the Class of 2011.
In what is proving his most controversial change, Deal wants the new rules to apply to current college students, which means that thousands of families will see a spike in their college tabs next year.
It also means that a student’s high school transcript casts a very, very long shadow.
For instance, college students who had a perfect SAT score and a 3.6 GPA in high school but have maintained straight A’s in college still only qualify for HOPE Lite because they fell short of the magic 3.7 GPA.
The changes to HOPE are also creating concerns in high schools as students who were feeling pretty good about their 3.6 or 3.5 GPA are now panicked.
Some are already calculating whether they should reconsider their course selections for next year to make it easier to snare the 3.7 GPA needed to earn full HOPE funding.
As one mom said, “My daughter is signed up to take four AP classes next year. We are now actually discussing whether she should do that.”
“All it does incentivize you to dumb it down and play it safe,” says north Fulton parent Albert Bodamer, whose son is bound for Georgia Tech next year.
Even having taken two Tech math courses at Tech in high school and with a near-perfect SAT score, his son is only eligible for HOPE Lite under new rules, says Bodamer.
He and other parents note that the 3.7 GPA requirement penalizes top high school students who take AP courses.
Under Georgia’s rules, weighting points are given for AP classes unless the student earns an A. They don’t get the 0.5 point bump to achieve a 4.5 score because the highest weight a student can obtain is 4.0.
“So, perversely, students are motivated to take the easiest possible core curricula to maximize their potential to achieve a 3.7 GPA,” says Bodamer.
If ever there was a year when teachers can expect pressure to inflate grades, it will be for the graduating class of 2012.
It is too late mathematically for the class of 2011 to do much about raising their GPAs.
But any Georgia seniors on the verge of a 3.7 are probably rethinking any plans to slack off in these final three months or join in the traditional senior skip day.
–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog